One On One: Interview With Retired NBA Star Larry Johnson

UNLV Forward Larry Johnson 1990

Many have tried, and many have failed…he’s never done an interview and addressed questions about UNLV, but reminiscing about her own days as a Rebel, Tam-Star recently had a very rare opportunity for a no-holds-barred interview with former NBA star player Larry Johnson. Not only does he share his thoughts on the historic Duke vs. UNLV battle equating to good vs. evil, but on former Michigan Fab-Five member Jalen Rose’s controversial statements about Grant Hill, HBO Sports documentary Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, even about choking his senior year in the historic UNLV vs. Duke NCAA championship game (and how he eventually came to terms with it). But of course, life before and after UNLV included the McDonald’s High School All-American team, a National JUCO player of the year title, the number 1 draft pick and NBA Rookie of the Year Award, as well as his cover feature on the premiere issue of SLAM Magazine.

For excerpts of the interview read below, for the full article including his beef with Ex-NBA player Alonzo Mourining click here.

Tam-Star: As someone who knows and has experience being on the campus of UNLV, I totally hated the HBO Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV documentary. I want to know what your thoughts are on the documentary.

Larry: Well, you’re from Vegas, I’m from Vegas, UNLV. You mentioned it earlier, I don’t do a lot of interviews. We never got good press at UNLV. It was always negative. Even when we played Duke it was good vs. evil — what kind of madness is it? You’ve got basketball, not good vs. evil, but we were the bad guys of college basketball. And honestly, we loved it at the time. We were some renegades, we had 6-7 guys that were from inner cities all around America — inner city Pasadena, inner city New York, Detroit, you know all of us came together, and we had that swagger.

We played with our shirttails out. We played with our shorts down on our knees. And whenever someone asked me to do an interview I always turned them down about UNLV because we’d been burnt so many times.

I did not participate in HBO specials. They showed me of course, and they had some old previous things that I did and said. They asked me to participate, they asked me to do an interview, and they kept asking me for like a year and I turned them down because I thought it was going be negative.

But, you said you hated it? I don’t want to say I loved it, but I thought it was one of the better specials that was done about us. I thought it was fair. I thought it was candid. I kind of enjoyed it.

Tam-Star: Got it. On that note what are your thoughts about the ESPN 30 for 30 on Michigan’s Fab Five that debuted the same weekend ironically?

UNLV Running Rebels Basketball - NCAA Champions

Larry: Those young guys, Tam, they were good, they considered themselves our little brothers. Hunt [Anderson] is from Detroit. Our senior year UNLV played Michigan State in Detroit for Hunt. Coach Tark wanted to take him back home. He just got MVP the year before, so he wanted to take him back home and let the hometown hero play.

The night before our game with Michigan State he took us to his high school and listen who was on his high school team at the time — Jalen Rose, Voshown Leonard, and Howard Eisley. Those three guys played in the NBA and they were at the time, his high school team playing against Chris Webber, and they beat Chris because they had more talent.

But after the game you should’ve saw Chris and Jalen, they knew they were going to go to Michigan. You should’ve seen them guys come up – “We’re gonna be like you all, man, we just like you all.” But we considered them our little brothers. I know Jalen may have said some things in his interview on ESPN 30 for 30, but I thought, I would like to know what those guys thought about it. I enjoyed it too.

Tam-Star: What did you think about Jalen’s comments on Duke? I mean Duke was our rivalry going to UNLV, so I think some people understood what Jalen had to say about Duke and Grant Hill, but if you don’t want to comment on it that’s fine because I know it’s a touchy situation.

Tam-Star: Okay, so we’ll move onto the next…

Larry: Let’s not move, this is Vegas.

Tam-Star: Okay.

Larry: Like I said, coach Tark had all these guys from the inner city. Jalen is from the inner city. What he’s trying to say is Grant didn’t grow up like that. Grant’s father played professional football for the Cowboys. So, Grant don’t know anything about the hood and struggling, and rolling like that. So definitely we knew what Jalen was talking about.

Now, we probably didn’t, like it, I wouldn’t want Jalen to say it in public… if you feel that way you tell Grant one on one.

The only reason I wouldn’t say it in the public is because you black, we black, he black. You know, if he grew up that way, let my man grow up that way. But Duke was filled with those clean cut players, they were the darlings of college basketball with Coach K and the way he presented himself, and mostly white. But you know, when we played against them, Tam, it was good vs. evil, that’s what was in the paper.